The Road to Mandalay

February 1 to February 24, 2015

Day 15 - Phrae to Chiang Mai

An interesting day, with another 400 kilometres taking us further northwards.  We began with a short sprint on a closed road.  Imagine closing a twisty B-road in the English countryside with a village at each end, setting off a bunch of vintage and classic cars to a timed dash between the two.  Here in Thailand, they seem to make light of such a thing.  It’s Sunday, and everyone turns out to clap and cheer. Nobody is in a rush to go anywhere, and seem delighted that a bunch of foreigners have rocked up to put on such exotic entertainment.

First the fire-brigade runs a fire-engine down the course, damping things down in the two villages so the locals are not going to be standing in large dust clouds – which was the case yesterday.  An ambulance turns up and sits at the Start line, a couple of policeman turn up and watch our marshals,  Chris Elkins and Ed Rutherford, run up and down with another half-dozen rolls of plastic barrier tape. 

A white line is laid across the road at the finish point – cars have to stop astride the line, there are penalties for over-shooting the line, and then pull forward to hand across their time-card to Chris and Ed. Just before the first car is due, two film-unit trucks decide on a recce, and once in place, radios crackle into life, and it’s good to go.

With reverse-seeding it means the slower, older cars start first.  The pace quickens as the field runs down the course.  Lots of tyre-squealing over the white line…  lots of clapping and lots of cheering. The biggest cheer goes up for the 1907 Itala of David and Karen Ayre.  Without a cloud in the sky, it’s a bright sunny day, and two remote anonymous villages could be Le Mans or the Mille Miglia as far as local motor-sport enthusiasts are concerned.  Some have travelled miles and never seen a car with a number on the door in the flesh before.  Children cling to branches in trees, some are perched on the floor of an open sided barn in a field beside the road, most are disciplined by a village elder into forming lines around the ERA pick-up truck near the finish clock.  The tension rises and the time spent waiting for the action is well rewarded – they have never seen a Chevrolet Fangio Coupe growling up their road before, never seen Mercedes or Volvos for that matter, and long lines of black rubber are soon stretching out down the road from the stop line, with the crowd becoming more excited with every car.

In the Vintage category, the dice at the top was much as before, with Bill Shields posting a time 10 seconds quicker than Phil Garratt. Daniel Day’s Chevy this time was second best to Bill, seven seconds slower than Bill, Paul an Mariella Kirkham’s Model A is flying along and beat the Wilkinson’s Alvis, a Lagonda and several Bentleys and the Butler’s Chevy.  In the Classics division, Peter Lovett beat Gerry Crown by a single second, the Datsun of Grant Tromans was ten seconds slower than Peter Lovett,  Paul  Merryweather was a further 10 seconds adrift, Matthew Todd in his Volvo Amazon turned in a good time beating Stan Gold’s Porsche 911. Roy Stephenson was neat and tidy powering through the bends and posted one of the quicker times of the time in his 240Z.

We took in a Regularity test in the afternoon, with the V8 Ford Coupe of David and Hilary Tomlin setting the best time, with zero, and Phil Garratt just one second off ideal, but Bill Shields was just two seconds adrift so still retains his grip at the top of the Vintageants leaderboard, with an 11 second lead overall over Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown.  In the Classics, no less than five drivers scored a spot-on score of zero penalties: Hans Wartenwieler, Hans  Middleburg, Paul Merryweather, and Ludovic Bois.  Two were just one second out, Nicholas Pryor and Grant Tromans.

We arrived at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel in Chiang Mai, where we sat down to a silver-service dinner with a choice of wines served – a change from the usual rally buffet. David and Jo Roberts, taking an organisation initiative, persuaded many of the Officials to divide themselves up and sit at tables which Jo had designated just for those who are driving Peking to Paris in 2016. We dined on excellent duck, cooked Thai style – there is a very lively social side to this event and clearly a lot of crews have made new friends.

Among us tonight was the return of Jo and Heather Worth, who report that their Volvo Amazon will hopefully have the engine they have found fitted tomorrow so they can rejoin the rally as we head closer to the Burma border.  We also hear that the missing Mercedes SL of Jan and Dana Hradecky which left us with broken engine mounts will also be returning, along with the Mercedes Ponton of Clemens Lansing, which left us with a broken axle.

Syd Stelvio



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